Kota Ibushi made history by becoming only the third back-to-back G1 winner, behind Masahiro Chono (1991, 1992) and Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2003, 2004). This feat makes Ibushi stand out from the rest of the main event scene of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, something that is very important.
From Naito being the first ever dual Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion, to Okada being the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight champ at a staggering 720 days, having a special accomplishment next to your name helps you be a lasting figure at the very top of the company.
Despite Kota Ibushi’s many accomplishments in New Japan, he is yet to raise the “big boy” belt. Ibushi has only challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship 3 times, most recently on January 4th 2020 against Kazuchika Okada, so will it be fourth time lucky for the ‘Golden Star’?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, Kota Ibushi has to get to Wrestle Kingdom 15 with the G1 Climax winner’s briefcase still in his possession, something that every G1 winner has succeeded in doing to date.
However, a briefcase change is not out of the question this year. Having only lost to Jay White and Shingo Takagi in this year’s tournament, we could expect up to two briefcase defences before the new year rolls in. To date, the only announced defence is against Jay White (at Power Struggle on November 7th), so could we see the ‘Switchblade’ snatch the briefcase from Ibushi with a devastating Blade Runner?
It is a real possibility that White could become the first man to poach the G1 winner’s briefcase as the number of storyline prospects are much greater if this is the case. EVIL challenges for Naito’s double gold yet again, in the Power Struggle main event, so with Jay White getting the victory in the semi-main match it’s more believable EVIL will win as well. With Bullet Club dissent brewing between Jay and EVIL, perhaps this could come to a head at the Tokyo Dome in the most high-profile match of the year?
I would argue an EVIL vs. Jay White match is nowhere near worthy of the Wrestle Kingdom main event – and that’s not because of Jay White – so this is perhaps unlikely as I’m not in the minority here.
Whatever the case may be, the fact that there is a seed of doubt sewn in the NJPW fan’s minds means Kota Ibushi may not have been the best option to win the G1 Climax.
Some would point to other wrestlers as being better options for the role, perhaps the aforementioned Jay White, Sanada or a more surprising winner like Shingo Takagi would have been better than the ‘Golden Star’, but first I want to discuss the storyline opportunities coming out of the G1, and weigh up whether or not they could have been any more intriguing with a different winner.
Firstly, Ibushi has made it very clear that he wants to become a wrestling god, surely he needs to claim the most prestigious prize in pro-wrestling – the IWGP Heavyweight Championship – to do this. Perhaps, the other route he could have taken was defeating the ‘Ace’, Hiroshi Tanahashi, with the Kamigoye (translating to “beyond god”), but this storyline is seemingly on hold whilst Ibushi chases the gold.
Secondly, Tetsuya Natio has made it known that he has the desire to defend the Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles separately, while Ibushi declared he is only interested in winning the biggest prize of the two. This is in conflict with the match announced for the Double Championship on January 4th, could this be changed at a later date to allow the belts to be separated once again, or will the titles continue to be defended together (perhaps merging them eventually)?
Thirdly, the above-mentioned Jay White vs. Kota Ibushi match at Power Struggle is important to the storyline possibilities because Ibushi will probably have to fend off more than just Jay in a match against Bullet Club’s leader. Gedo will be in his corner, and if the BC story between him and EVIL is to be advanced much more interference should be expected. This would help Ibushi gain vast amounts of babyface sympathy as he heads on the road to Wrestle Kingdom 15.
It could be argued that a different winner would have been more suitable because we saw a high-intensity Naito vs Ibushi feud only last year, deciding to drop each other on their necks on two separate occasions (MSG Supercard and Dominion), when fighting for the Intercontinental Championship. On the flip side, a Naito vs Ibushi match always promises to be a match of the year contender, so this concern isn’t a deal breaker by any stretch.
In terms of other potential winners, Shingo Takagi is the most intriguing as it would have propelled him into the main event scene and set-up a mouth watering intra-L.I.J match to headline Wrestle Kingdom 15. Sanada would have offered the same L.I.J elements as Shingo, but not at the same match quality, with the ‘Dragon’ coming off an outstanding G1 once again.
Jay White also provided exciting prospects as the G1 Climax 30 winner, due to the avenues it left open for the Bullet Club story to play out. Resulting in EVIL playing second-best to the group’s leader Jay White and therefore intensifying tensions within the faction.
Whether you conclude ‘Golden Star’ was the best choice or not, it is hard to argue that the tantalising prospect of Naito vs Ibushi headlining the Tokyo Dome isn’t exciting enough, but do you think Ibushi was the right winner after all?
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